Everything’s Changed In It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia, Yet The Gang Remains The Same

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What's up, jabronis? Season 15 of "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" is finally here, making it the longest-running live-action comedy series in television history. The series has always been a bit self-referential, but the upcoming season looks like it will be the most introspective yet. While "the gang," comprised of Mac (Rob McElhenney), Dennis (Glenn Howerton), Charlie (Charlie Day), Dee (Kaitlin Olson), and Frank (Danny DeVito) never learn anything and the only kind of self-growth they've ever had was Mac's accumulation of mass in season 7, the creators of the show (McElhenney, Howerton, and Day) have tried to improve their comedy and the series as it progresses. The first two episodes of the 15th season are full of reflection: about the gang's past behavior, the ridiculous state of our nation, and the series' own problematic content over the years. 

With 14 previous seasons under its belt, there is a lot of history to the devious doings of the gang. That's why each week, I'll be helping "Always Sunny" fans like a friendly bartender, offering a chaser episode to go with your shot of fresh "Sunny." Comedy cannot work in a vacuum, and the context behind many of the series' best gags makes them that much richer. This week, we were blessed with two episodes of the FXX series, "2020: A Year in Review" and "The Gang Makes Lethal Weapon 7." Both were chock full of classic "Sunny" references, but each had something a bit more profound to say than the crass humor would let on.

The Gang As Agents Of Chaos

Season 14 of "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" ended in November 2019, and they ended it with a riff on Samuel Beckett's "Waiting for Godot," leaving fans wondering if the gang had decided to hang up their hats for good. It's been two years since we've seen Mac, Charlie, Dee, Dennis, and Frank, and it's been hard to imagine how they would handle the events of 2020, one of the most tumultuous years in American history for some time. Thankfully, the first episode of season 15 follows the gang as they recount their 2020 escapades to a bank associate in an attempt to get a fourth PPP (Paycheck Protection Program) loan. It turns out the gang has been using the loans, meant to help small businesses stay open during the pandemic, for their own personal business schemes. Mac and Dennis try to create a security firm for polling places and end up causing election delays. Frank comes up with a new hair dye made from Chinese motor oil that he then allegedly used on Rudy Giuliani before his infamously sweaty news conference. Even Dee and Charlie get in on the business ventures, designing a line of custom masks and clothes that end up being worn by some of the "protesters" who stormed the Capitol on January 6. (They also voted for Kanye for president, because decision-making is clearly not their strong suit.)

The banker is flabbergasted and can't believe their stories. After all, they somehow managed to be a part of multiple national news stories without it ever being reported, and the banker even tells them that they're "not Forrest Gump." The gang has a way of seeing things through a very warped perspective, so their version of events is probably a far stretch from reality. Their myopic worldview is also on display, as they only view the pandemic through how it affects them personally. Instead of concerns for their health or for the well-being of others, they're concerned with "get rich quick" schemes and whether or not football player Donovan McNabb could beat Rocky Balboa in a fight. The world may have turned upside-down, but the gang are just as self-centered and misguided as they've always been. 

Chaser: The World Series Defense

One way the series reveals the dysfunction of the gang is by forcing unsuspecting normal people to put up with them. In "2020: A Year in Review," that poor sucker is Gary (Brian Huskey), who has come to collect on the three PPP loans the gang took out during the year. The gang have had to explain themselves quite a bit over the years, whether it's how they ended up in the brig on a sinking cruise ship or how they allegedly were involved in the breaking of the Liberty Bell. If you go back 10 years, however, all the way back to season 5, there's an episode that best shows how the members of the gang justify their abhorrent behavior.

In "The World Series Defense," the gang attempts to get out of a slew of parking tickets by weaving a tale of misfortune for the presiding judge. You see, they decided to go support the local baseball team, the Philadelphia Phillies, in their World Series game. They chugged highly alcoholic homemade "riot punch," Dennis painted his chest, and they had plans for running onto the field. The only problem? Frank left the tickets in his apartment, and it's being fumigated for bugs. They spend the rest of the episode trying to get into the Phillies game to no avail. Their schemes for getting in get progressively wilder, and in the end they still end up outside of the stadium, battered and bruised. As they tell their story to the judge, she is even more shocked than poor Gary, as they have confessed to committing a litany of crimes in order to try to get out of the inconvenience of paying parking tickets. 

The gang's sense of reality is and has always been skewed, but it's only when we see them face consequences that it's apparent just how out of touch they really are. 

The Gang Gets 'Woke'

Speaking of out of touch ... the second episode of season 15 is "The Gang Makes Lethal Weapon 7," a callback to their previous episodes in which the gang made two unofficial sequels to the 1980s action franchise. Those episodes were pulled from streaming (along with "Dee Day") due to the characters wearing offensive blackface make-up. In a meta commentary on the episodes being yanked, the gang finds out that their "Lethal Weapon" sequels were pulled from the shelves of the local library citing cultural insensitivity. Mac, played by showrunner McElhenney, had worn blackface to try to look like Danny Glover's character Roger Murtaugh. He comments that his "heart was in the right place," but that doesn't matter because intent isn't the important part. McElhenney has been very open about his regrets for some of the missteps of early seasons, like the blackface, the insensitive treatment of a transgender character, and the use of slurs. While the show is about five ignorant white people, the team behind-the-scenes has expanded to include a much more diverse team, much to the series' benefit. McElhenney explained why the diversification was necessary in a recent interview with The New York Times

"At its foundation, it's a show about five ignorant, white people, right? So, at first we thought, well, how does it even make sense to have different points of view in there? Then we were like, Oh my God, of course. Who could better understand how it feels to be in the wake of ignorant white people than people who aren't ignorant white people? Ignorant white men, specifically."

The characters grapple with how to make a progressive version of their "Lethal Weapon" sequels, trying to make it so that no one is ever offended. Even Dee's portrayal of the ultimate "Karen" doesn't work, and the gang realizes that playing it completely safe is boring. When the other members of the gang want to go back to their old ways, Dennis explains that they have to change or they'll be stuck "having sex with old people," because the youth of today are politically engaged. He then takes three different women on dates only to realize that none of them want debate or discussion, only to have their ideas said back to them. The gang has no idea how they could make everyone happy, so they make it someone else's problem and try to pass it off as benevolence. 

They end up giving complete control to one of their performers, a local Black actor who they've worked with several times before, played by Geoffrey Owens. He turns "Lethal Weapon 7" into a documentary on the gang's failings to understand privilege, calling it "White Saviors." It's a great bit of punishment for the gang, and watching them squirm in a movie theater because they're being misunderstood is brilliant. They complain about not being represented, not realizing that they are now feeling the exact pain they've inflicted on others for decades. 

Chaser: The Gang Tries Desperately To Win An Award

This one's a little tricky. I could tell you to watch the other two "Lethal Weapon" episodes, but they're not streaming and aren't great episodes anyway. Instead, I'll point you in the direction of one of the series' greatest meta-masterpieces, "The Gang Tries Desperately to Win an Award." This season 9 episode follows the gang as they try to win the "Best Bar in Philadelphia Award," despite the fact that they've never been nominated. It's a hilarious piece of meta-commentary on the fact that despite being an incredibly successful comedy, "It's Always Sunny" never gets nominated for TV awards. In fact, their only Emmy nominations are for Best Stunt Performance. 

The gang ask themselves why the bar hasn't won any awards, and you could easily apply the same questions to the series. They list some of the major complaints people have had about the bar, like the gang's tendency to yell over one another, and it still all applies. When they try to copy a bar from down the street that has won tons of awards, it's hilariously off-base, as if the gang are trying to live in a glossy network sitcom with a laugh track instead of being the rowdiest bunch on a cable network. In the end, they realize that they will never fit in or get an award, but they're proud to hang on to their crass behavior. They haven't won any awards because they're unbearable, crude monsters, but that ends up being just fine. "Screw them, I like us," Dee says, and the gang agrees. They're all a little bummed out about not getting an award, but they sure as hell aren't going to do any real change for it. 

Much like "Lethal Weapon 7," the gang aren't interested in real progress, only in appearing that way. The changes they make to Paddy's to try to win an award are all surface-level, ignoring the fact that the bar itself is a tetanus infection waiting to happen. They don't work on creating new drinks, fixing up the bar, or becoming better people. Instead they slather Dee in makeup, copy the cutesy will-they-won't-they banter between co-workers from the other bar, and hope for the best. Even if the rest of the world ends up booing in their faces, the gang continue to be their bad, bad selves. 

Can The Gang Ever Change?

In the 15 seasons since "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" premiered, the characters have gone through just about every conceivable experience. They have been married and divorced, almost died multiple times, and even spawned offspring. There have been some changes, like Dee becoming less air-headed and more devious, and Mac's extended back-and-forth about coming out of the closet, but at their core they're still the same miserable weirdos we met in 2005. Season 15 will see them leaving the United States for the first time, heading to Ireland to dig into Charlie and Mac's heritage while Frank does some shady business. If anything is going to change the gang, it could be visiting their ancestral homeland and getting out of their safety nets. Then again, this is the gang, so change is about as likely as Rickety Cricket winning People Magazine's "Sexiest Man Alive." It could happen, but I wouldn't bet anything important on it. 

Check out "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" Wednesdays on FXX and the following day on FX on Hulu. 

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The post Everything's Changed in It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Yet the Gang Remains the Same appeared first on /Film.